Certificate Programs: First, Ask Right Questions

certificate program Certificate programs have become so popular and controversial that The New York Times has published a major article on the subject in a special edition of Education Life.

In essence, the message of the coverage is: Ask the right questions before you sign on the dotted line and apply for five-figure educational loans.

Certificate programs, a type of vocational training, are nothing new. For years, it was through such formal programs that people learned skills in fields such as court reporting. What's new is the rapid growth of such programs, both in the non-profit and for profit training sectors.

With the economy changing so quickly and the current shortage of jobs, many view this route as a relatively fast and highly focused way to acquire marketable skills. In some cases the investment in time and money would seem to make sense. According to a report by the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University, a certificate earned in addition to a high school diploma can add about $117,000 to lifetime earnings.

However, not all certificate programs have that kind of payoff. In fact, too many of them have left those completing the training with no job and $28,000 or more in student loan debt. After graduation, of those who do secure employment, the compensation has often been too low to allow them to repay loans.

The way to avoid that disappointing return on your investment [ROI] is to take the time to ask the right questions -- or, as it's sometimes called, doing "due diligence." Here are some basic questions you should be asking. Depending on your field you may benefit from asking even more questions. Contact those already employed in that line of work to identify what else you must investigate.

Is this program accredited and by what organizations?

In the paralegal industry, for example, accreditation by the American Bar Association matters quite a bit.

What is the entry level salary and the average annual compensation?

If you're going to be earning about $25,000 a year for most of your career, you probably can't afford to take on a great deal of educational debt.

In addition to certification, how else can you enter this field?

Most employers look for experience, not a certificate. To obtain experience without formal training, look for help wanted ads, for jobs in your field. in which don't require previous training.

If you'd like to work, for example, in the field of public relations, but don't have a degree or any certification in a related area, you might start out by working for a public relations company as a copy editor.

Getting your foot in the door may open up opportunities. In addition to the valuable experience you'll gain, you'll also benefit from the fact that many organizations like to hire from within. So when you do complete your certification, you'll have two legs up on the competition, instead of just one.

What is demand in field?

Currently too many paralegals are being certified for too few jobs. Conduct some research online to determine if your industry is growing or shrinking, and to discover what the long-term prospects look like.

What are this program's placement statistics?

Keep in mind, it's easy to manipulate how job figures are reported. Graduates who are working, but not in the field they trained for, might be counted in the category of "employed."

What are names and contact information for graduates who are working and the employers they were hired by?

Ask those you interview if they know of members of the same profession who are working in the field, but did not go the certification route. Contact them as well. Compare the stories from both kinds of workers. Ask employers if they actually prefer hiring candidates with certification.

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One of the issues with getting a cert instead of a diploma is most employers want the diploma, even for jobs that historically did not require it. I also think for older work adults or those that have experiences that you may not be able to get in school that should count. There should be a streamlining of the educational process to get people back to work. I find myself back in school but I have to take such classes that are interesting but will not aid me in acquiring necessary skills for employment. In my teens and tweens they may have been good but at 50 and with bills to pay and needing to get back out there quick they are a waste of time.

May 12 2011 at 3:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Waaa waaa waaa waaaa! I gotz me no eduuukashun so I sitz her on mah compooter and complain!!!!!! Waaa waaa waaaa waaaaaaaaa....

January 12 2011 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

College what a Waste of Money

January 12 2011 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ken Burke

It is a good idea to thoroughly check out the institution offering the training. Such places are notorious for claims such as "90% of our graduates find work" without mentioning the jobs they find are not what they trained for to begin with.

January 12 2011 at 7:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Since, I graduated high school back in 2001 trying to find the funding for college has been a sad task. I have 60 credits and a certificate in early childhood education. Sadly to say that just isnt enough anymore in this economy. But, I never gave up and thats my advice for everyone who wants to go to college.

Today I was told that I was choosen for a FULL-RIDE SCHOLARSHIP..FULL RIDE!!!
I cant stop crying. I full sooo Blessed and Honored.
I have b/c grades. I dont have straight A'S.
I dont play any sports.

I wrote an essay and was choosen out of thousands of applicants.

Im saying all of this to say



January 12 2011 at 7:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gg's comment


Make the most of your opportunity!!!

Good luck to you!

January 12 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Land of then free....I don't thinks so.
Try going to Southwest Asia and put up a church.
Don't ask, don't tell
Our country sold out with outsourcing and being politically correct

January 12 2011 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why the study in Europ is free FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE nad here in usa you have to pay so if you are poor you have no chance to study..
That's what's make sense of all the crimes and crimenals in the country it's normal they can't afford to pay this huge some money for study

January 12 2011 at 6:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


The latest word from capital hill is that if you’re out of work simply Eat Shit and Die as they plan to continue to help offshore our jobs and continue to allow employers to use illegals. The government says that if you're out of work or about to lose your job, they don't give a rats ass.

They knew back in early 2000 the economy would eventually collapse as soon as the housing bubble popped that’s why they gave themselves so many giant pay raises over the last decade. Combine their six digit salaries and six digit pensions along with all the bribe money ( they call it campaign donations) from Big Business, the corps and the banks and they are living in total luxury like king and queens, actually drowning in cash while we struggle to buy food to feed our families..

January 12 2011 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tOMMY t's comment

Someone forgot his meds again. Here's an idea... instead of getting on AOL and foaming at the mouth over things you can't control, you put your energy into something positive and productive and do something useful with your life. Who knows, you might actually feel better about yourself, solve a problem, and help people.

January 12 2011 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gr8bsn's comment

Actually I agree with toMMY T, most ppl dont realize it but the outsourcing of jobs and sending our manufacturing to other countries is what caused our economic meltdown. Do you really believe the housing crisis was caused by millions of bad loans? or is it more likely pp could not pay because their jobs were sent to India, China or elsewhere. There were estimate that up to 10 million jobs have left our shores and the practice has not stopped. The problem is what if anything can be done about it.

May 12 2011 at 2:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

So many of these posts are the glaring truth of this country. I can only add that IF we didn't have credit to float so much we would be much worse off that the first depression.

January 12 2011 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Stopping the offshoring of jobs means stopping the bribes and campaign donations our government representives receive from the corporations. There's no way in hell they're going to let that happen.

January 12 2011 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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